Written by Labrini Gioti on January 22, 2019
The group’s name, Åkervinda, is inspired by a Swedish wildflower whose roots spread far and wide like rivers under the ground. Like the flower, gracefully entwining melodies, rock solid groove, and ever intriguing harmonies will take root in your mind. Like the flower, they will be impossible to remove. Jazz singers at heart, the young women of Åkervinda share a deep love of folk music. Through improvisation they give new life to traditional folk songs and stories of women throughout the ages. Through this interview we want to show to our audience all this beauty that their music reveals.
The Group: Iris Bergcrantz | Agnes Åhlund | Linda Bergström | Lise Kroner
How did you all meet?
We all studied jazz singing at the same school and some of us knew each other from playing together in other constellations outside of school!
Are you from different areas of Sweden?
Agnes Åhlund and Linda Bergström are both from the same small area in outside of Stockholm, but only met each other though Åkervinda. Iris Bergcrantz is from Malmö and Lise Kroner is from Denmark.
Were you raised in the traditional singing of Sweden?
We all have different backgrounds including all from family members playing folk music to singing in school choirs. In this area and were all pretty in ways exposed to folk music while growing up, but didn’t start to practice it until later in life.
I read in your description that you have started with jazz, but how did you decide to sing traditional?
When studying jazz together we found that it could be a quite competitive environment, especially among singers (and indirect among women since most of the times the singers were women alone in a band with only men) so we were looking for a space where we could just bond with each other and what better way than to sing together in harmonies? We found that through these folk songs it was easy for us to jam and just sing together in a more relaxed way without feeling the need to compete, because we needed each other suddenly. I guess the love we already had for folk music just grew when we also found each other through it, so we are really grateful for that.
Do you incorporate jazz elements in your singing style?
Since we all studied jazz and share a great love for that as well, it is something we cannot resist to incorporate it in our arrangements. There are harmonies and improvisation parts that usually wouldn’t be found in a more traditional context.
The ACK ACK tune you sing, is a remarkable arrangement blending the sounds of Bolero by Maurice Ravel. Would you like to tell me some more about this tune?
Ah, yes! The song Ack ack is a traditional and very common folk song in Sweden. At first, I had some trouble understanding this question, but I think you refer to a live video where Iris has an improvisation part, where she probably was inspired by Ravel, because when I listen to this particular live performance, I hear it too, but I never thought about it, because it’s not always there! She was improvising and gave a hint of this tune, but it’s not in the arrangement. It differs from time to time! If you listen to the album, you will not hear it like this live capture, because it was not supposed to be like that. I guess that reflects a bit of the jazz part and also shows that we have different backgrounds. You can hear the musical influences that we had when we were younger, projected to our music! That is actually very funny, I never thought about it.
Who is making the arrangements or is it all of you? Do you learn it by ear or from a score?
We make the arrangements by ear and usually together. Sometimes one of us writes an arrangement and teaches the harmonies by ear and sometimes we all just learn the melody and start jamming on it, trying to find different ways to accompany it with an ostinato or harmonies. A lot of the arrangements might also start with a rough sketch of a form that someone makes and later we sit together to figure out the harmonies for it.
Are you aware of the work of Suzanne Rosenberg in Swedish traditional polyphony?I think she has blended the old with the contemporary in the way you do.
We are aware of her and one of the first songs we sung together was actually a song called Silibrand from her album with Rosenberg 7. We like her!
What do you think of the current trend about “kulning” around youtube and instagram?
We think it’s great, most of the time! There are some really cool feminist movements that talk about using it as a self-defense (if you get assaulted on the street or something) and that is amazing and really in line with the spirit of the tradition in our opinion, since it was used as a tool in the old days. It could be used to call each other or to call the cattle home, but also to warn about bears and wolves and what not. It’s a pretty cool idea to use it against robbers and rapists as a modern take. Kulning is a very liberating thing to do and the voice is a powerful tool so we do encourage people to try. It’s interesting how people find ways to approach it. Some as a girl power thing, some as a nice soundtrack to their extra romantic videos of Swedish nature and some as a way to connect to their body or nature. Whatever makes them happy! Being loud is a lot of fun!
You released a cd after 4 years. What changed these 4 years between the 2 cds except for the material?
By the time we recorded our first album, we were still in school, we barely had any gigs and it was really during this recording that we started finding each other musically for real, hearing each other and ourselves for real and learned so many things. We are very happy with the CD but indeed, so much happened between that and the next one! One of the members quit after recording the first album, so Linda started in the group and since we didn’t have a fiddle anymore, we really developed working with only vocals and different things started happening with no other instrument to accompany us. We spent a lot of time with the arrangements for the second album and practised the songs a lot before recording them so we were a bit more organized, I would say!
Do you have plans for a tour? Maybe in Greece?
We have talked about touring in Europe and it would be amazing to come to Greece! Lots of great music there, so it would be super inspiring for us. We have no dates planned yet, but we are currently looking into different options and hopefully we will see each other very, very soon…
Invigorating, enchanting and ethereal Nordic folk-singing
Jazz singers at heart, the four members of vocal quartet Åkervinda share a deep love of folk music, and give new life to the Scandinavian folk tunes in their original and modern interpretations. The group released their second album ‘Förgänglighet’ in Spring 2018. It has then been nominated for a Swedish Grammis in the category “Folk music of the year”.
Förgänglighet – the passing of life – is a tribute to all the things that withers away and a celebration of life in summer as well as autumn. Like so many storytellers and artists before them, Åkervinda carries tales of women throughout the ages, embodied in a visual musical live performance.
Ever since their break through at the Aarhus Vocal Festival in Denmark in 2015 the group have performed at an array of European vocal festivals and folk venues and at venues in Canada and the USA. They have frequented the UK, where they performed at the Marchland Festival in March, and then a six-date Summer Tour of the UK, including Shambala Festival, Bath Folk Festival and two concerts with The Nest Collective, amongst others. They are set to perform with The Swingles in London at Cecil Sharp House in April 2019, and are now setting dates for 2019.
The group was nominated for a Grammy award in 2018!
Special Thanks to the Photographer Nadja Hallström